Ask the Expert

The Art of the Pitch | Jamie Coughlin, Director of Entrepreneurship

“The ability to pitch is rapidly expanding past the world of entrepreneurship,” says Coughlin. As the founding director of the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network (DEN) Innovation Center, Coughlin works with students, faculty and alumni to help bring new ideas to fruition. A crucial step in any venture is convincing other people to buy in. Whether you’re trying to sell an idea, product or service, Coughlin believes pitching “is a skillset that people can give more reflection to.” Here are his tips.

Know Thy Audience
As with cover letters and speeches, Coughlin says, the first step in pitching is learning how to tailor your message appropriately. “Always consider whom you’re pitching to, because different audiences have different goals. When you’re pitching to the Dartmouth Entrepreneurs Forum, you’re pitching to a series of judges who are evaluating you. That could be very different from trying to pitch somebody to join your team as a cofounder. Always know your audience.”

Tell a Good Story
“Often the goal of a pitch is to tell a story. Why? To hook somebody. Get them interested enough to have a next meeting with you. In the entrepreneurial world we often think about ways to convey an idea very simply. Everybody may not be as deep into your technology or your market, so you need a way to close that gap. A picture is worth a thousand words and orients people to what you’re trying to do. Be succinct—time is of the essence in these pitches.”

Hype Your Team
“People invest in people. Would you rather invest in an A+ product with a C team or a C product and an A+ team? Most people will say the A+ team. If you have people who can be adaptable and resilient, who can work collaboratively to navigate the landmine that is the world of startups, you will find your way to getting an A product that then matches the market and develop that further. At the end of the day, it’s all about the people.”

Keep Your Cool
“Always be ready for pitching to go awry. Sometimes demos don’t work. People show up to the meeting late. Do you freak out? ‘Oh, my goodness, where are my slides? This was supposed to be done.’ Or do you say, ‘Hey folks, it seems like we have an audio-visual issue. I’ve got a backup. Let’s jump in with the hard copies. We’ll just move on from here.’ How you react to that situation is very telling to people who are in the business of evaluating entrepreneurs.”

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